Supervisors repeatedly ignored reports from young workers of sexual harassment and federal agency charges
SEATTLE – Fast food chain Chipotle Services LLC and Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., violated federal law by subjecting young female employees to blatant and ongoing sexual harassment from October 2019 to June 2020, severe enough to force two employees to quit their jobs, the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.
According to the EEOC lawsuit, Chipotle cultivated a toxic work environment when it allowed a male service manager and a male crew member to sexually harass several young female employees at its Sammamish store.
In 2019, a 29-year-old service manager began targeting a 16-year-old worker with unwelcome sexual comments, touching and requests for sex. After another duty manager raised concerns about the behavior of the 29-year-old duty manager, the chief executive failed to investigate and instead warned the teenager that she could be fired for having an inappropriate relationship with the service manager. The GM continued to schedule the teen to work one last shift with the alleged stalker. Eventually, the ward director sexually assaulted the teen and began harassing others.
In 2020, Chipotle management again failed to take appropriate action after receiving sexual harassment complaints about a 24-year-old crew member who commented on the bodies of several workers and pointed to them with unwelcome nicknames like “mom,” “honey,” and “little girl.” Chipotle agreed to investigate their complaints but allowed the alleged harasser to return to the workplace where he angrily confronted those who had complained of harassment.Fearing for their safety because of Chipotle’s inaction, two workers quit.
Such conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which requires employers to investigate and take prompt and effective action to prevent sexual harassment in the workplace. The EEOC has filed its lawsuit (EEOC v. Chipotle Services, LLC and Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc., Case No. 2:22-cv-00279) in U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington in Seattle after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its voluntary conciliation process. The EEOC is seeking lost wages and monetary compensation for the emotional distress suffered by the workers, punitive damages and an injunction to ensure that Chipotle workers have adequate protection from sexual harassment in the future.
“This case involves workers in their teens and early twenties. These are their first impressions of the workplace, and it’s devastating when an employer allows sexual harassment to continue despite repeated complaints,” said EEOC San Francisco District Director Nancy Sienko, who includes Washington State. “We want to send a clear and opposite message: Every worker has the right to a workplace free from sexual harassment, and the EEOC will hold employers accountable.”
EEOC Senior Prosecutor Carmen Flores said, “Teenage workers make up a large portion of the fast food industry’s workforce. Being new to the workplace and not knowing their rights makes it all the more difficult for young workers to report sexual harassment. The EEOC has made it a priority to defend the civil rights of vulnerable workers such as these young people, and will seek the full extent of legal redress on their behalf.
The report of the EEOC’s Select Task Force on the Study of Harassment in the Workplace provides a Table of Harassment Risk Factors and Reactive Strategies for ideas on how to reduce the risk of harassment given a young workforce and isolation from closing or night shift.
Chipotle is a publicly traded restaurant chain with more than 2,500 locations across the United States, headquartered in Newport Beach, California.
The EEOC’s Seattle field office has jurisdiction over western Washington.
The EEOC advances opportunity in the workplace by enforcing federal laws prohibiting discrimination in employment. More information for teenagers and young workers is available at www.eeoc.gov/youth.